"I don't think a round of applause is enough for our guest speaker," said inmate Ramano Wednesday evening at the Thumb Correctional Facility. "I believe his work at Humanity for Prisoners deserves a standing ovation!" And with that prompt, 100 men dressed in prison garb stood and cheered. I had just finished my part of the HFP presentation in a special assembly, arranged by Chaplain Hart.
I reviewed impressive case after case where HFP made a difference. We helped a prisoner who was abandoned on her release date when her bus trip was cancelled. We arranged a birthday party in prison for the 8 year old daughter of a female inmate. We prodded the MDOC into giving cancer treatments to a terminal patient behind bars. We were up early in the morning to be at the side of an inmate who had no one to represent him at a Parole Board interview. We found a beautiful hospice facility at the request of prisoners in Jackson who wanted their friend, Old Bill, to die outside of prison. The state was willing to release him, but he had no place to go.
And then I challenged the prisoners, explaining that some of the nicest people I know live behind bars, and some of my best friends are in prison. People on the outside need improvement in their perception of prisoners. Together, the prisoners and HFP must do a better job of public relations, telling all of the good things prisoners are doing. I pledged to help if they would agree to help.
And then the chairman of the board of HFP, Dr. Dan Rooks, a clinical psychologist, gave an entirely different type of presentation. He challenged the inmates to take a good look at themselves. To own up to their situation. He told of the course he is running twice a month at another prison, helping prisoners to learn to forgive themselves, to learn to love themselves, and to openly consider the issues of restorative justice. This especially includes how the crime impacted not only the victim, but the community. He concluded with a powerful piece written by one of his friends in the course, who reflected on his crime and on his pathway of growth since then. It was beautiful, and it touched the hearts of these men.
In a question and answer session, both of us gave straight forward answers to excellent questions. Dan and I were right where we belonged...surrounded by prisoners.
The men lined up to shake our hands and to thank us for coming.
One of the guys who helped to put this program together called the next morning to say the men are already organizing a fund raiser for HFP. They want to do their part to keep us going.
HFP doing its thing. And the President and Board Chair loving every minute of it.